Sinn Féin representatives, Pádraig MacLochlainn, TD, and Cllr. Jack Murray, are calling for the overturn of a Health Service Executive decision to remove free transport to training day centres for disabled people in Donegal.
Deputy MacLochlainn called the decision disgraceful.
“The minister’s insistence on introducing a 3 euro charge on these routes is a further burden to disabled people who have already faced two cuts to their income over recent budgets, with their income being reduced by 16 euros already,” Deputy MacLochlainn said. “If they have to pay this bus fare, it will result in a 15 percent loss in income for the most vulnerable in recent years. It is completely unjustifiable and must be overturned.”
In a parliamentary question, Deputy MacLochlainn had asked whether Minister James Reilly, TD, planned to call for the restoration of free transport. In response John Hayes, HSE area manager, Donegal, said that the HSE has for many years provided free transport to day centres, day hospitals and other services in Donegal because of the limited public transport in the county, Mr. Hayes said. He said this practice was “in sharp contrast to other areas within the county”.
But Mr. Hayes said, “It is not sustainable for the HSE to continue to provide a free transport service, as resources must now focus on continued service delivery.” A 3 euro charge will be applied to daily return journeys and transport routes will be streamlined to avoid duplication, Mr. Hayes said. He said the HSE continues to heavily subsidise transport cost to facilitate access to services.
The area manager said that there needs to be a fundamental change in how the scheme is implemented at national level to enable the free travel pass to be used on these routes. “The Rural Transport Companies and the Donegal County Development Board continue to advocate for a more distribution of this scheme,” Mr. Hayes said. “Were this to happen clients would once again be able to avail of free travel.”
Cllr. Murray said that people with disabilities in Donegal often travel considerable distances to training centres because of the county’s large, rural character.
“For the HSE to inflict charges on disabled people who have no choice but to use public transport is extremely unfair,” Cllr. Murray said. “This is an added tax on people who receive just 188 euro a week, and is simply an attack on the most vulnerable in our society.
“Minister Reilly needs to intervene immediately and overturn this outrageous decision,” Cllr. Murray said.